Equitarian Essentials: Packing, Planning For Volunteer Trips

Equitarian Essentials: Packing, Planning For Volunteer Trips

In recent years, the number of veterinary and equitarian groups interested in helping working equids in impoverished areas has risen.

Photo: iStock

In recent years, the number of veterinary and equitarian groups interested in helping working equids in impoverished areas has risen. While these efforts are extremely important, an aspiring equitarian can’t necessarily just pack up his or her box of veterinary tools, head to a country’s most rural community, and get to work. There’s a copious amount of planning involved.

David Turoff, DVM, of Foothill Mobile Veterinary Service, in Placerville, California, shared his wisdom and insights from 14 years of equitarian work in Latin America. He described what supplies, equipment, and permits equitarians need at the 2015 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 5-9 in Las Vegas.

First, Turoff listed the minimum requirements for an equitarian program:

  • Local contacts and communication methods These contacts in the destination country—typically from a university, non-governmental organization, or other host group who has extended an invitation—are the ones that will be able to help with permits and arrange transportation, lodging, and meals. They sometimes require compensation for their assistance.
  • A team Turoff suggested veterinarians making their first pilot trip with a small group of veterinarians who can speak the country’s language. Subsequent trips can include nonveterinarian and nonbilingual members.
  • Funding Veterinary efforts in rural communities typically cost about $8-12 per patient, said Turoff. Volunteers on the trip should understand they will be paying their own way.

Then he described supplies participants should bring versus those they can acquire at their destination.

With the exception of donated and cost-prohibitive supplies, said Turoff, “buy as many vaccines and pharmaceuticals there as possible,” making sure everything is sealed and has not expired.

Many topical and injectable medications, intravenous fluids, and disinfectants are available in host countries, whereas suture material, some sizes of syringes and needles, eye ointment, gloves, and oral medications are not, or they are of substandard quality, he said.

Also, prepare to forego controlled substances or euthanasia solution, which are not practical to export legally.

Equipment, Turoff said, veterinarians should bring on their trips includes basic surgical instruments, an Equitwister for castrations, battery-powered dental equipment (and an inverter to charge it with), and basic farrier tools. Store everything in practical, secure containers that adhere to airline size and weight constraints, such as Rubbermaid’s watertight 24-gallon Action Packers.

“Bring more than you think you might need if it will store well, and build an inventory in the host country,” he suggested, adding that supplies such as sutures and gloves do not last or store well in the tropics. Also remember that it can be challenging to keep supplies clean, dry, and safe from theft and pests.

Required paperwork veterinarians need for the trip includes import permits, medical evacuation insurance, legal liability forms (particularly if students are coming along, said Turoff), and medical records.

Lastly, “Don’t forget the mundane stuff, such as duct tape, zipties, and flashlights,” he said.

Ultimately, said Turoff, this form of community service is very beneficial and rewarding, but is not without its unique set of organizational challenges. “Laying the correct groundwork with participants and the host country in the initial stages of a program will maximize potential for effective longevity and minimize it for disruptive and dangerous error,” he said.

About the Author

Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

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